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Triple PG Wastewater Apparently Killing Trees on Neighboring Property

Despite multiple reprimands from the TCEQ and a lawsuit by the Texas Attorney General, the Triple PG mine apparently continues to discharge process wastewater onto neighboring properties. Photos taken on 5/4/22 show those neighboring properties under water despite unusually dry weather and record heat recently. Those same properties were not flooded just days after Tropical Storm Imelda, which dumped more than 25 inches of rain on the area.

However, Triple PG denies allegations of unauthorized discharges.

Location of Isolated Neighboring Properties

Let’s first look at the location of the neighboring properties. Triple PG owns most of the property west of the mine with one notable exception – a strip of 20 properties isolated near the mine’s stockpile. See the map from the Montgomery County Appraisal District below.

Properties in question are inside the red oval. MCAD shows that Guniganti sold the Royal Pines land to TC LB ROYAL PINES LP on 12/9/21.

History of Unauthorized Discharges

Back in March 2020, I observed that the Triple PG sand mine in Porter was discharging process wastewater onto adjoining property that the mine did not own. The Texas Attorney General had already sued Triple PG on behalf of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for previous unauthorized discharges.

I filed a complaint with the TCEQ about the March 2020 discharge. TCEQ immediately sent an investigator to the mine. The investigator documented wastewater on the adjoining property. It was the fourth such alleged incident at the Triple PG mine in 10 months. Outcome? The TCEQ issued yet another “Notice of Enforcement” in April 2020 for the “unauthorized discharge of wastewater.”

But two months later, in May 2020, the wastewater on the adjoining property was higher than in the mine’s settling pond.

Dr. Prabhakar R. Guniganti, who owns the mine, didn’t seem to get the message. And pictures taken two days ago suggest he still doesn’t – despite the threat of a million dollar fine.

Compare Before/After Aerial Images

The image below, taken before discharges into this area started, shows the neighboring properties in question. They are the strip of trees between the foreground and background. Note how the land is not flooded, despite the fact that I took this picture just days after Tropical Storm Imelda, which dumped more than 25 inches of rain on this area. Also note the dense forest canopy.

Looking south toward stockpile in background. Properties in the forested strip do not belong to Guniganti. I took this picture on 9/27/2019, ten days after Imelda.
Reverse shot looking N from over stockpile. Taken in March 2020. Other shots taken in this series show water on neighbors’ property higher than inside the mine.

Now, fast forward two years. Aerial pictures below taken on 5/4/22 show the same property – under water – despite only 4 inches of rain in the last month!

The new images also show most of the once-lush vegetation has died. All trees on the neighboring property adjacent to the mine are dead with the exception of one small copse on higher ground. And the water is blackish.

dead trees on property adjoining Triple PG mine
Dead trees on property adjoining Triple PG mine immediately north of the mine’s stockpile in foreground. 5/4/22.
Looking NE. The dead trees on neighbor’s property adjoin the mine’s wastewater pit. 5/4/22.

Hmmmm. Let’s see. Not flooded days after 25 inches of rain during Imelda. Flooded after 4 inches in the last month. Once healthy trees now dead. How curious! I wonder how that works. Judging from the healthy trees in the background, I’m guessing the mine’s wastewater may have had something to do with their demise.

Status of Legal Case

According to the TCEQ, the Attorney General’s case against the mine is finally moving forward after two years. Legal maneuvering delayed it when Guniganti tried to transfer ownership of the mine in an apparent attempt to shield assets from prosecutors. As a result, the Attorney General wound up bringing Prabhakar R. Guniganti (individually) into the lawsuit, as well as:

  • Guniganti Family Property Holdings, L.L.C.
  • Prabhakar R. Guniganti, as Director of Triple P.G. Sand Development, L.L.C. 
  • Prabhakar R. Guniganti, as sole manager of Guniganti Family Property Holdings, L.L.C.
  • Guniganti Children’s 1999 Trust.

The AG contends that regardless of which legal entity owns the mine, they all lead back to the same man and they all had an obligation to ensure that process wastewater was not discharged into waters of the State.

The AG believes all entities above are liable for unauthorized discharges pursuant to Texas Water Code 26.121(c), which makes it unlawful to “cause, suffer, allow, or permit the discharge of any waste” in violation of the Texas Water Code.

…Into the Drinking Water for 2 Million People

During the next big rain, at least some of this will flush down White Oak Creek, which joins Caney Creek and the East Fork San Jacinto. Then, it will enter Lake Houston a little more than 2 miles downstream.

Close up cropped from image above.This used to be high, dry and covered with green. Compare with first image at top of post.

Lake Houston supplies drinking water for two million people. I’m not sure what’s in this water. But if it kills trees, it can’t be healthy for humans. It also can’t be healthy for neighboring property values.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/7/2021

1743 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Sand Mine Continues to Push Its Luck by Mining Over and Between Pipelines

Last year, the flood during Tropical Storm Imelda washed out the sand supporting a natural gas pipeline running across an easement through the Triple PG Sand Mine in Porter. Luckily, Kinder Morgan (KM) shut the line down before anyone was hurt. KM then drilled 75 feet under the mine and spliced in a new section. But now Triple PG is mining over the new section, once again eroding the the public’s margin of safety.

Of course, it’s possible that the miners won’t get down to 75 feet. But TACA and some West Fork sand mines say they routinely mine 100 feet down.

Eroding Margin of Safety

Just as bad, they’re mining toward five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids (HVL), potentially exposing them in the next flood, just like they were on the West Fork at the LMI River Road Mine.

The Kinder Morgan natural gas line runs diagonally between the trees in the foreground, parallel to helicopter skid in the lower left. Five HVL pipelines run in the utility corridor in the background.
Here’s how that same area looked after Imelda on 9/27/2019, when Caney Creek (right) had flowed through the mine.

Shortly before Harvey, the sand mine started mining next to the road cutting diagonally from top left to bottom right. Then, Harvey flowed through the mine, creating much of the erosion you see here.

Two years later, Imelda cut through the mine again, extending the erosion headward to the point where it could threaten the HVL pipelines in the utility corridor near the top of the frame above during the next flood.

In two years, the headward erosion cut toward the pipelines by 2000 feet.

Triple PG Already Operating Under Injunction

The sand mine sits at the confluence of two floodways and floods repeatedly.

On October 11, 2019, the State Attorney General at the request of the TCEQ, filed a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction against the sand mine. Repeated breaches of its dikes which had gone unrepaired allowed process wastewater to escape directly into the headwaters of Lake Houston. The issue even became part of the last Mayoral campaign when Tony Buzbee picked it up.

A Travis County Court set a trial date for 6/22/2020, but the trail has been delayed by COVID. Shortly after the Attorney General filed his suit, the owner of the mine, a cardiologist from Nacogdoches, tried to transfer ownership within his family’s companies and trusts.

The attorney general wound up suing all of them and the cardiologist’s attorney petitioned to withdraw from the case as counsel – a highly unusual move.

The case is still pending trial. Until then, the mine continues to operate under an injunction which prohibits it from dredging, but not dry mining.

Source: Travis County Clerk
Source: Travis County Clerk as of 9/30/2020

2020 will certainly go down in history as the year of living dangerously. A miner trying to push his luck is just one more thing we shouldn’t have to worry about…especially when he’s sitting on top of a huge stockpile of sand that he has barely touched in months.

No one has died yet. Hopefully they won’t. But if they do, it won’t take long for a lawyer to argue negligence and triple damages for the Triple PG owners. Of course, they will then likely declare bankruptcy and tuck tail back to Nacogdoches.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/30/2020

1128 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 377 since Imelda

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Approximately 1,000 Plaintiffs File Suit Against Sand Mines in Harvey Flooding

On February 20th of this year, approximately 1,000 plaintiffs filed a 118-page lawsuit against 55 sand mining companies in the San Jacinto River Basin. Plaintiffs allege that the miners harmed them by decreasing the capacity and depth of Lake Houston and its tributaries by wrongfully discharging and negligently allowing the release of materials into waterways. That reduction of capacity, they say, contributed to flooding their homes and businesses.

Western half of LMI River Road mine in floodway and flood plain of San Jacinto West Fork. Note also in foreground how the mine undermined five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids.

Background

To support their claims (¶613), plaintiffs cite violations of Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regulations and the U.S. Clean Water Act. They claim:

  • Excessive, unauthorized discharge of silt into waterways
  • Failure to:
    • Obtain stormwater discharge permits
    • Prevent unauthorized discharges
    • Minimize generation of dust and off-site tracking

Past and Present Activities Cited

Some defendants, they say, operated above permit limits and others operated without any permits at all (¶614).

Plaintiffs say (¶615) that defendants have operated immediately adjacent to various waterways and in the flood plain, clearcutting all vegetation, and digging pits within feet of the riverbanks. Thus, there are no real barriers between mines and the rivers, they claim. Further, they allege that defendants have no plans in place for protection and preservation of their pits and loose sand during flood events, which occur frequently.

Then Came Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, they say, inundated mines and “thousands of acres of sand washed downstream, clogging the rivers and lakes, resulting in flood waters moving outside the banks and outside the flood plain, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.”

Washed out road INSIDE sand mine during Harvey.
Submerged sand mines in the floodway of the San Jacinto West Fork during Hurricane Harvey in 2017

Alleged Violations of Water Code

The defendants had a duty to implement procedures to reduce the discharge of sediment into waterways, but did not, according to the plaintiffs. Thus, the proximate cause of plaintiffs’ injuries involved negligence and negligence per se. Defendants allegedly breached their duties under sections 11.086, 26.039, and 26.121 of the Texas Water Code, thus causing flooding and damage to plaintiffs’ property.

To prove negligence, personal injury plaintiffs must show that the defendants’ conduct fell below the applicable standard of care and that their actions were the actual and proximate cause of harm. 

In cases of negligence per se, defendants’ actions are assumed to be unreasonable if the conduct violates an applicable rule, regulation, or statute. That’s why lawyers cite the Texas Water Code, plus TCEQ and EPA regulations.

  • 11.086 of the Texas Water Code provides that no person impound the natural flow of surface waters, or permit impounding to continue, in a manner that damages property of another by the overflow of the water diverted or impounded.
  • 26.039 specifies that mine operators must notify the TCEQ of accidental discharges or spills that cause or may cause pollution as soon as possible.
  • 26.121 prohibits discharge of pollutants. Both the EPA and TCEQ consider sediment a pollutant.

Specific Omissions

Specific omissions, say the plaintiffs, include failing to:

  • Locate sand mines outside of floodways
  • Increase the width of dikes
  • Decrease the slope of dikes
  • Control erosion with vegetation
  • Replant areas not actively being mined
  • Protect stockpiles from flooding
  • Mine only above the deepest part of the river
Flooding from Hurricane Harvey in Kingwood’s Town Center where 100% of businesses were disrupted, most for approximately a year. Some still have not reopened. Photo by John Knoezer.

Nuisance Claim

The plaintiffs also allege nuisance. Under Texas law, nuisance refers to a type of legal injustice involving interference with the use and enjoyment of property. Specifically, plaintiffs say that the defendants’ negligent conduct caused paintiffs’ flooding, thus depriving them of the use of their homes.

Complaint against Forestar by Barrington Residents

On page 108, a subset of plaintiffs (those who live in the Barrington), lodge a complaint against Forestar (USA) Real Estate Group Inc. They allege that Forestar developed, marketed and sold homes in the subdivision without any standards for determining the elevation of a house relative to flood risk.

The Long Ride to Safety During Harvey. Barrington Photo by Julie Yandell.
The Long Ride to Safety During Harvey. Barrington Photo by Julie Yandell.

“Despite having actual knowledge of the possibility of flooding in the Barrington Subdivision, Forestar did not advise homebuyers to purchase flood insurance,” says the complaint (¶640). “Nor did Forestar advise the residents of the Barrington Subdivision of its location on a floodplain, or that their elevations were changed due to lots being filled with dirt” when residents purchased homes.

Nevertheless, the complaint continues (¶643), homes were built at an “unreasonably low” elevation, given their location near the West Fork San Jacinto. “Forestar knew, or should have known, that houses needed to be built at an elevation adequate to prevent and/or reduce the likelihood of flooding.”

Clean out after Harvey in the Barrington. By Joy Dominique.
Clean out after Harvey in the Barrington. By Joy Dominique.

Damages Alleged

Plaintiffs allege damages that include:

  • Cost of repairs to real property
  • Cost of replacing personal property
  • Lost of use of real and personal property
  • Diminution of market value
  • Loss of income, business income, profits and business equipment
  • Loss of good will and reputation
  • Consequential costs, such as loss of time from work and alternate living expenses
  • Mental anguish
  • Pre- and post-judgement interest
  • Court costs

Conscious Indifference and Gross Negligence

¶658 asserts that the conduct of all defendants (sand mines and Forestar) qualifies as gross negligence under Texas law. The plaintiffs say that the defendants acts of omission involved an extreme degree of risk, considering the probability and magnitude of harm to others. Plus, “Defendants had actual subjective awareness of the risk involved in the above described acts or omissions, but nevertheless proceeded with conscious indifference to the rights, safety and welfare of plaintiffs and others.”

Where Case Stands

129th District Court Judge Michael Gomez signed a docket control order on 2/28/2020 that calls for:

  • All parties in the suit to be added and served with notice by 8/19/2020
  • Close of pleadings and start of mediation on 12/16/2020
  • End of discovery on 1/15/2021
  • All motions and pleas heard by 1/15/2021
  • Trial, if necessary, on 2/15/2021

To date, there have been several motions to transfer venue, dismiss the case, and change the judge.

Only Triple PG Sand Development, LLC has filed an answer to the plaintiffs’ claims; the company filed a general denial.

In a separate case, the Attorney General of Texas is suing Triple PG for failing to prevent and repair breaches in dikes that resulted in repeated unauthorized discharges of process wastewater and sediment into Caney Creek. Caney Creek joins the East Fork San Jacinto just downstream from Triple PG. Triple PG currently operates under an injunction that bars it from dredging.

Breach of Triple PG mine into Caney Creek and the headwaters of Lake Houston

Editorial Opinion

If successful, this case may force sand mines to operate more responsibly, now and in the future. For instance, it might force them to move farther back from rivers and out of floodways. Having taken thousands of photos of leaking sand mines from the air since Harvey, in my opinion, that might benefit everyone, not just the plaintiffs.

Giant sand bar at the mouth of the West Fork which backed water up through much of Kingwood, Atascocita and Humble.
Mouth bar on the East Fork San Jacinto grew by thousands of feet during Harvey and Imelda. Downstream from Triple PG and Texas Concrete Mines.

To read the entire lawsuit, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on August 2, 2020

1069 Days after Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Triple PG Mine Case Extended While Mysteries at Mine Deepen

Mysteries at the Triple PG mine in Porter are deepening. In the 19 days before I took the pictures below, we got 0.63 inches of rain at the closest official rain gage (East Fork and FM1485). During that time, the temperature soared into the nineties almost every day and wastewater inside the Triple PG mine got lower. One pond has even almost disappeared. Yet, water outside the mine on neighbors’ properties got even higher. I cannot understand how this works.

Mysteries Defy Logic, Explanation

Dr. Guniganti, the cardiologist from Nacogdoches who owns the mine, must be a genius. He’s managed to construct a parallel universe – in Porter of all places. Porter now rivals Roswell and Area 51 as centers of paranormal activity.

In this parallel universe, Dr. Guniganti can make wastewater magically disappear.

Yet in another display of Dr. Guniganti’s magical prowess and beneficence, the good Doctor makes water fall from clear-blue skies to drench his neighbor’s properties free of charge.

No wonder the community has dubbed him, “Guniganti, the Guy Who’s Got It Going.” At first, I thought neighbors bestowed that phrase on Guniganti for his talent to keep trucks running all night long under the cover of darkness…even as he operated under an injunction by the State’s Attorney General.

The Phlegm of Legend

They used to write ballads about immortals like Guniganti. He’s right up there with Pancho Villa, the Mexican general who inked a deal with a Hollywood studio to film his men in battle for 20% of the gross.

Guniganti’s also going for the gold. He will not be outdone by Pancho Villa, Ray or Egon. I can see the headlines already:

  • Sandman Takes on Texas
  • It Ain’t Dumping Unless They Catch You
  • Man Saved by Covid

The last headline refers to the fact that Guniganti’s case was supposed to go to trial this week. But of course, it didn’t due to the pandemic and some last-minute filings. No telling what those last minute filings are; the Travis County Clerk says it may take up to two weeks to email the documents.

Pictures of the Paranormal

In the meantime, here are more pictures of the paranormal.

Notice how low the water is in Triple PG’s main process wastewater pond (blue/green). The blue/green color is likely due to high chloride levels in the waste water or cyanobacteria.
This strip of property adjacent to the mine is owned by other people. Note how high the water is after two weeks of mostly 90 degree days and less than 2/3rds of an inch of rain. It’s a miracle!
Compare the height of ponding water on each side of the road. Water is almost overflowing from the neighbor’s property back into the wastewater pond.
Water in the next pond over is even lower. It’s almost gone. Guniganti appears to be draining the pond in the foreground so that he can “dry mine.” An injunction has idled his dredge. But how did that water get so low? Where did it go? Can Guniganti make water evaporate in different ponds at different rates?
Next to that same pond, by Caney Creek (foreground), a trail of water of various hues leads down from the mine after weeks without rain.

Great Leaping Pond Scum!

Can Guniganti really have the power to make water evaporate from different ponds at different rates? How did water form puddles on the side of that hill? Did water leap out of this mine over the road? Or is Guniganti causing it to flow uphill from Caney Creek using anti-gravity powers?

A former high-level Public Works executive for the City of Houston suggested miners sometimes pump water over the side of their dikes at night.

But I can’t believe an immortal with paranormal powers like Guniganti would need a mechanical assist. Move over Roswell. We need Hollywood to investigate.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/27/2020

1033 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 282 since Imelda

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

TCEQ Alleges Fourth Unauthorized Discharge in 10 Months at Triple PG Mine

In March, ReduceFlooding.com published pictures of the Triple PG sand mine pumping water onto adjoining properties near White Oak Creek. The TCEQ investigated within days. Today, they reported their findings and issued a Notice of Enforcement for the unauthorized discharge of process water. The discharge also appears to violate terms of the Attorney General’s injunction against the mine and could result in the AG seeking additional fines up to $25,000 per day for discharges at apparently lasted three months.

Mine process wastewater flooding neighboring properties in upper right. Picture taken Jan 20, 2020.
Mine process wastewater flooding neighboring properties in foreground. Picture taken Feb. 13, 2020.
Triple PG wastewater on neighboring properties on March 6, 2020. See water in strip of trees in front of stockpile.

TCEQ Report on Compliance Investigation

TCEQ observed process water outside Triple PG’s property boundary and concluded, “The allegation of a discharge of process water was confirmed. As a result of the investigation conducted on March 11, 2020, one alleged violation was noted for failure to prevent the discharge of process water.” That was the fourth such finding in five years for the mine.

TCEQ says in part, “Because process water was located outside of the facility’s property boundary with a high likelihood to enter waters of the state, an unauthorized discharge had occurred.”

676% Higher Levels of Suspended Sediment than Creek Water

Wastewater was overflowing from Ponds Five and Six. Analysis of water samples showed that the overflow had levels of suspended solids in it that were 137% to 676% higher than the background level found upstream in White Oak Creek. That’s more than 2X to almost 8X above the creek water.

Discharge Not Authorized

Both TCEQ rules and the terms of the injunction prohibit any discharges of process water not authorized by the TCEQ.

The Notice of Enforcement issued by the TCEQ on 4/3/2020 cites, “Unauthorized discharge of process water: Specifically, during the investigation conducted on March 11, 2020, process water was noted outside the property boundary of Triple PG Sand Development Facility with the likelihood to enter waters of the state.”

Recommended corrective action? TCEQ simply says, “There shall be NO unauthorized discharge of pollutants.”

Additional Fines Possible

The Texas Water Code Section 7.102 allows fines up to $25,000 per day for each day of a continuing violation. See flooded neighboring properties above in January, February and March flyover photos.

That water was building up and flooding adjoining properties for at least three months. This could get expensive for Triple PG!

The Attorney General’s office did not respond yet to a request for comment about the type of penalties that it would seek, if any.

Fourth Unauthorized Discharge in Last Year

TCEQ has conducted eight other investigations at Triple PG in the previous 5 years. They included investigations into:

  • Failure to renew their registration
  • Alleged failure to maintain pollution prevention measures and controls
  • Failure to maintain a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWP3)
  • Unauthorized discharge of process water (three times since May 2019)

This makes the fourth citation for unauthorized discharges in a year.

Editorial Comment: This mine just doesn’t seem to take the TCEQ, Attorney General, State of Texas or the health of their neighbors seriously. I hope the Attorney General shuts them down.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/6/2020

951 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 200 after Imelda

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Triple PG Mine Appears to Violate Injunction

Triple P.G. Sand Development LLC appears to have violated provisions of an injunction by dredging before its trail and flooding neighboring properties with industrial waste water.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the mine for discharging millions of gallons of process wastewater into the headwaters of Lake Houston last year. On November 25th, 2019, the mining company (operated by a cardiologist from Nacogdoches, Tx., Prabhakar Guniganti, MD), agreed to the terms of a temporary injunction. Within days, his employees apparently started violating it.

Terms of Injunction

In part, the injunction stipulated that the defendant shall:

  • Not conduct any dredging operations at the Facility.
  • Not engage in any operations at its Facility that discharge process wastewater, nor shall Defendant engage in any operations at the Facility that produce process wastewater that must be discharged off Defendant’s property without express prior approval from TCEQ.
  • Immediately and permanently cease and prevent all discharges of any Industrial Waste and/or Process Wastewater from the Facility into or adjacent to waters in the state.
  • Not allow any discharge of water that is in or has ever been in the Facility’s Dredge Ponds without the express prior approval of TCEQ.

Aerial Photos Show Potential Violations

The aerial photos below show that within eight days of agreeing to the injunction, the mine started pumping process wastewater OVER BERMS into a pit that then overflowed onto the property of adjoining landowners and lands adjacent to White Oak Creek.

Before showing you the photos, let me show you a satellite image that helps illustrate the relationship between the different elements of this report.

Overview of mine, area drainage and adjoining properties in Montgomery County.
Note the location of the mine’s stockpile in the satellite photo above for orientation when viewing the photos below.
Brownish creek to right of mine is Caney Creek.
Blue line shows approximate path of White Oak Creek through forest.
Red oval shows adjoining properties in area of interest.
Solid red line shows ditch around perimeter of mine.
Green lines show approximate locations of breaches in Attorney General’s lawsuit.

The lot lines are from the Montgomery County Appraisal District Web Site. The properties within the red oval belong to multiple people or trusts. Guniganti owns the large forested areas outside the red oval and west of the mine. However…

Water pumped out of the mine’s wastewater pond is now flooding neighboring properties within the red oval that he does not own. The mine also dug a ditch around the perimeter of its property (solid red line) through dense forest that channels the process wastewater toward White Oak Creek (solid blue line) and the wetlands along it. It’s not clear, though, whether the wastewater has actually entered the creek yet; the forest canopy limits visibility. Regardless, the injunction says they can’t discharge waste adjacent to waters of the state.

No Flooding That Lasted Months of Adjoining Properties Until Injunction

None of the historical satellite images in Google Earth dating back to 1989 show flooding in the red oval. Some of the properties in the red oval lie in the 100-year flood plain. However, there has been no widespread flooding in this area since Imelda on September 19, 2019.

Nor has there been prolonged flooding as far as I can determine. Photos taken of this exact location on 9/27/2019, ten days after Imelda, show no flooding of the adjacent properties. Likewise, the property was not flooded on 9/14/2017, two weeks after Harvey. I can find no evidence that this area has ever flooded for months before.

Looking south toward stockpile in background. Properties in the forested strip do not belong to Guniganti. On 9/27/2019, ten days after Imelda, they showed no flooding.

For months, I’ve been watching waste water build higher and higher in the area above until it overflowed the pit and invaded neighboring properties. That made me curious and prompted a review of thousands of aerial photos. Here’s what I found.

Photos Taken In November Before Injunction Show Neighboring Land Still Not Flooded

The neighboring properties were NOT flooded on November 4, 2019 (before the injunction). Notice the level of water in the foreground pit – higher than after Imelda, but still waaaay short of overflowing.

Think of the November 4th photo below as the “before” shot. Compare it with other photos below taken from December through March 2020.

Properties in the red oval are between the pit in the foreground and stockpile in background. Note level of water in pit. Photo taken November 4, 2019, looking south. The mine’s process waste water enters the pit immediately to the left of the trees.

After Injunction, Mine Starts PUMPING Waste Water OVER Dike

Eight days AFTER the injunction, on December 3, 2019, I flew over the mine again. I noticed that the mine was pumping water out of its main waste water pond and into the pit in the photo above. But the pit had not yet overflowed. Here’s how the pumping looked. (Note: You can even see the pumping from outer space if you zoom in on this area within Google Earth and look at the Dec. 1 satellite image.)

Close up of pump taken on 12/3/2019. The pumping operation can also be seen in Google Earth satellite photo dated 12/1/19.

On January 20, Pumping Continues From Different Location

I flew over the mine again on January 20, 2020; the pumping from and into the same pits continued – but from a different location.

Looking West. Notice the line running from the arc in the wastewater pond (diagonally from center to lower right).
Looking south. The same line dumps water into the trench (bottom left). The trench then carries the water south (toward the top of the frame) to fill the pond next to the stockpile and flood adjoining properties with waste water.
Looking SE. Here’s what it looked like closer up. Notice the waste water extending into the tree line and ending at the stockpile (upper right). The same pond that had plenty of excess capacity in September and November was now overflowing.
Looking south. This wider shot shows the flooding wastewater curled around the stockpile and headed south into the woods where White Oak Creek flows toward the mine.
Looking SE. Close up of the waste water turning the corner around the stockpile.

From where you lose visibility of the ditch under the forest canopy to White Oak Creek is about 80 yards according to Google Earth.

Floodwaters Even Higher on February 13

On my February 13, 2020, overflight, I captured the following images. They show the floodwater had risen even higher and backed up farther.

Looking SW. On February 13th, the flooding wastewater appeared even higher.
Looking SE. It still curled down the ditch on the west (right) side of the mine and flowed into the woods toward White Oak Creek

Water backed up so far, it even flowed into the utility corridor at the north end of the mine.

Looking East. Water in utility corridor at north end of mine on February 13, 2020

In March, Possible Dredging Observed, Still Flooding Neighboring Properties

In March, one of the first things I noticed was the dredge. The cutterhead, which had been elevated for months, was now DOWN. That usually indicates the dredge is working. And that’s something the injunction prohibited.

Dredge with its cutter head down usually means active dredging.

The pond next to the waste water pit overflowed onto neighboring properties even more. It came right up to the road. Note the huge difference between the levels of the two ponds below.

Note how high the water level is in the pond at the top of the frame compared to the waste pit at the bottom.
Looking SW. Floodwaters stretch into adjoining properties. Stockpile is behind trees in upper left.
Looking SE. Floodwater still fills the ditch running south along west side of stockpile.
Looking NW at wastewater flooding adjoining properties. Stockpile is in lower left.
Looking SE. Adjoining properties are in tree strip in front of stockpile. Notice waste water among the trees.
Looking north from over stockpile toward vast area flooded with waste water.
Looking west. Even more of utility corridor is flooded in March.

Water In, Water Out

Miners use water to clean silt out of the sand before shipment. Note the damp sand coming off the conveyor belts.
Looking south. A river of waste water is seen leaving the processing equipment on March 6, 2020.
Looking NW. The silt-laden waste water even forms a delta in the waste pit. Flooded properties are on the other side of the road that cuts diagonally through the frame from middle left to upper right.

So water is leaving the processing equipment and going into the waste pit. It has to come in from somewhere. But where? As you can see from the photos below, the supply lines for the processing equipment come from the dredge pond.

Looking west. Water goes into the processing equipment from the dredge pond.
Looking North. Wide shot showing dredge with cutterhead down and discharge pipe leading back to shore.

In the shot above, you can see that the lowest pond in the whole operation is the pond receiving ALL the waste water. Why is that?

The Big Questions and Some Possible Answers

So it appears that the mine is pumping water out of the dredge pit, into the waste pit, and finally into the surrounding forest. The big questions are these.

  • Why is the mine keeping the level of the water in the waste pit so low?
  • Why is the mine flooding the surrounding forest and neighboring properties with industrial waste water?
  • Is the waste water polluting White Oak Creek?

To hypothesize some answers to those questions, let’s look at two pictures: the first from February and the second from March.

Looking south. February 20, 2020. Miners have been removing sand from area with all the tracks in the center and the big pond at the lower left.

From this one photo, we can see that to avoid dredging (per the injunction), the miners have started surface mining. But the level of mining is getting down to a) the water table, and b) the level of the waste pit.

Looking NW. March 6, 2020. Three weeks later, mining is now BELOW level of water in the waste pit.

Note the differing levels of water in the forest (top) and waste pit (middle). Also note that the level of the surface mining has now gone far below the level of sediment in the waste pond.

From this photo (and others in the series) we can conjecture what happened. Please note: I have no proof of this. It is only conjecture.

Theory for the Discharge

I suspect that the mine realized that if it were to continue filling orders while it waited for trial on June 22, 2020, it would need to start surface mining AND mine below the level of water in the waste pit. So, I’m guessing they started lowering the level of the pond to keep mining as long as possible.

I’m also guessing that the terms of the injunction and heightened scrutiny by the TCEQ meant they could no longer make excuses about discharging water into the creek. So they discharged into the forest instead…most of which Guniganti owns except for that strip north of the stockpile. If the discharge drained into White Oak Creek deep in the forest, at least it wouldn’t be visible.

Is Discharge Reaching White Oak Creek?

Is the waste-water pollution reaching White Oak Creek? Because of the dense forest canopy, that’s impossible to determine from the air. One could only tell from the ground. And because Guniganti owns all the land around the mine (except for the properties in the red circle), the only way to determine that would be by trespassing. That makes it impossible for ordinary citizens to spot any illegal discharge, such as Tony Buzbee did when he was running for Mayor of Houston. Fortunately, the TCEQ has the right to inspect the property from the ground if it suspects a violation of the restraining order. And they are investigating this.

Summary of Potential Violations

This whole affair once again raises questions about whether sand mines should be permitted in floodways. This mine actually sits at the confluence of TWO. Which is part of the reason why it was sued by the attorney general in the first place. Both Caney and White Oak Creeks captured the pit last year and the TCEQ estimates millions of gallons of process waste water were discharged without a permit into the headwaters of Lake Houston.

Meanwhile, Triple PG appears to be discharging again without the benefit of storms to blame the behavior on. They also appear to be violating terms of their injunction by:

  • Dredging
  • Discharging process wastewater
  • Producing process wastewater that had to be discharged off their property.
  • Discharging water that had been in the Facility’s Dredge Ponds.
  • Discharging Industrial Waste and/or Process Wastewater adjacent to waters of the state (White Oak Creek)

I have contacted the TCEQ twice already about whether they permitted any of these activities. They have not responded yet, citing the ongoing investigation. However, I must believe that had they permitted the activities, they would not be investigating and would have replied immediately. They visited the site yesterday.

Posted by Bob Rehak on March 13, 2020

927 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 176 since Imelda

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Triple PG Sand Mine Agrees to Stop Dredging Until Trial Next June

Triple PG Sand Development, LLC and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton agreed to a temporary injunction on Friday, November 25, 2019. The giant mine between Caney and White Oak Creeks agreed to stop dredging while it finds a way to engineer permanent fixes to its dikes. The dikes have breached repeatedly in numerous places. And the mine has left some breaches open for years.

Triple PG Sand Mine dike breech into White Oak Creek. This is the third time this year.

Triple PG’s process wastewater has poured into the drinking water supply for two million people. The State is suing the mine for more than a million dollars.

Triple PG Trial Set for Next June

The judge has set the trial for June 22, 2020. That should give Triple PG time to engineer a fix. It should also give time a chance to test the repairs.

Terms of Triple PG Injunction

Read the full text of the agreed temporary injunction here.

Under terms of the injunction, this dredge will remain idle until trial in June 22nd of 2020.

Key elements of the agreement:

  • No dredging.
  • No discharges of process wastewater.
  • Defendant must hydraulically isolate industrial waste with berms.
  • Berms shall be constructed to halt influx of water from adjacent creeks.
  • Defendant will hire a professional engineer to ensure berms prevent future discharges during rain events.
  • Defendant agrees to comply with Texas Water Code 26.121 (unauthorized discharges).
  • Make sure the berms work or reclaim the dredge ponds.
  • Provide a proposed plan to TCEQ within 90 days.

Good News for East Fork Residents

All this represents good news for the people on Caney Creek and the East Fork. Recent storms have left both clogged with sand, at least some of which washed out of the mine.

Sand inundated thirty acres of East End Park for the second time in two years and destroyed about a mile of trails. Repair costs could exceed $80,000 for just a portion of the trails. KSA will abandon the Eagle Point trail permanently.

People directly south of the mine in Walden Woods should rejoice. They may finally get the protection from this mine that they should have had all along.

Reportedly, Triple PG is dry-mining frack sand and working down its stockpile to stay in business while it makes repairs.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/28/2019

821 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 70 since Imelda

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Triple PG Sand Mine Denies Attorney General Claims

Surprise. Surprise. The Triple PG Sand Mine has denied all of the claims by the Texas Attorney General in the state’s lawsuit. The attorney general alleged that breaches in the mine’s dikes allowed wastewater to escape into tributaries of Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for two million people.

One Sentence Denial

When I first read the denial, its brevity shocked me – one sentence. It basically says to the attorney general “prove your case.”

I quote: “…Triple PG generally denies each and every allegation contained in Plaintiff’s Original Petition, and all amendments and supplements thereto, and demands strict proof thereof by a preponderance of the evidence.”

I called a lawyer to ask whether such brief denials were common. The answer: yes. My next question: Why?

Why the Brief Denial?

Basically, had the defendant made no reply to the claims within 20 days, it could have had a default judgement entered against it. So this blocks a default judgment. This also stops the clock, forces the Attorney General to reveal more of its case, and gives the defendant more time to develop an affirmative defense … if it has one. Triple PG can always amend its reply later.

AG Already Laid Out Evidence

The TCEQ has performed onsite inspections and overflights. The TCEQ report was made public with the AG filing. But the TCEQ isn’t the only entity investigating. So by delaying a settlement, the mine could be opening itself to additional fines. And the discovery of additional evidence.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration is also investigating the mine thanks to complaints from dozens of residents around the mine.

The AG could also amend its suit if new evidence becomes available.

In addition, numerous residents, including Tony Buzbee, candidate for the Mayor of Houston, have photographed the breaches in this mine’s dikes.

The longer they wait to settle this case, the higher per-day fines could go.

Hearing Delayed Again

The hearing scheduled for November 12 on a permanent injunction against the mine has now been rescheduled for November 25th.

Deny This

When I flew over the mine on November 4, 46 days after Imelda, Triple PG was only starting to fix the second of eight breaches. The TCEQ did not even find all of those breaches because many roads within the mine had washed out when they paid their surprise visit. So delays could add to Triple PG’s woes as they also run up legal fees.

Here’s what breach #2 looked like on 11/4/2019.

Breach between Triple PG sand mine pit (upper left) and White Oak Creek lower right, photographed on 11/4/2019.
Same breach photographed from reverse angle over pit. Note the white scum floating out of the mine.
Third angle shows more scum and trees blown inward toward the mine during the breach.

The Defendant’s response also included a one sentence prayer. They prayed that all charges would be dismissed and that they would be entitled to further relief, which they did not specify. The only other thing the AG sought was a permanent injunction barring the mine from discharging wastewater. But they might seek to recover court costs if found no guilty.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/14/2019

807 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 56 after Imelda

The thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public policy and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Triple PG Sand Mine Finally Starts Plugging Breach on White Oak Creek

In September, Imelda caused the Triple PG sand mine dikes to breach in multiple locations. As a result, the mine’s process water flushed into the drinking water for millions of people. When the owners left the breaches open for weeks, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) filed a harsh report with the Texas Attorney General. The AG then sued the mine on October 11.

While the Triple PG owners immediately rushed to seal off the most visible breach into Caney Creek on October 12, other breaches still remain open.

On Tuesday of this week, 46 days after the flood, the Triple PG mine was finally attempting to seal off the main breach into White Oak Creek, another tributary of Lake Houston. I took all of the photos below during the afternoon of November 4, 2019.

The TCEQ had fined Triple PG in 2015. TCEQ again fined the mine in May of this year for allowing process water to escape into the City’s drinking water for weeks. That fine totaled more than $18,000. But when it happened again in September, the Texas Attorney General sued the owners for more a million dollars.

Triple PG White Oak Creek Breach Still Open on 11.4.19

After the AG suit, I thought repairs to all breaches would follow quickly. So I rented a helicopter on 11.4.2019 to check their status. That’s when I took all the photos below. What I saw should have shocked me, but sadly, it did not.

Miners had not yet sealed the White Oak breach. And a white substance was floating out of the mine through it.

Triple PG attempts to repair breach to White Oak Creek on 11/4/2019. The narrow, washed out section of the road on the right looks like it might have been a previous attempt at a repair that failed already.

Meanwhile, Repairs to Triple PG Caney Creek Breach Failing Already

Meanwhile, the breach repair (below), first photographed on October 12, appeared to be slumping into Caney Creek already. Notice how the road is collapsing near the trees at the bottom of the frame in this photo. Glad I’m not driving heavy equipment over that road! Quick call the MSHA! Notice also the difference in the water elevation on either side.

The repair to the Caney Creek breach completed last month appears to be failing already.
Looking west over Caney Creek in the foreground. Erosion is already visible in this side shot of the same repair from a different angle.

Water appears to be piping through the dirt in the repaired breach. Note the wet appearance in several places that also exhibit erosion near the bottom of the dike. Piping is one of the major causes of dike failure. Water seeps under the dike creating channels which undermine it.

Trapped Stormwater: A Problem for Mines in Floodways

A high and constant level of the water in a such a mine creates outward pressure on dikes that invites failure. A spokesman for the Mine Safety and Health Administration said that typically mines must find ways to get rid of excess water after heavy rains or risk breaches. Some try engineered solutions such as spillways. However, Triple PG mine also faces environmental constraints. Specifically, Triple PG cannot flush its process water into the City’s drinking water. Especially when the Attorney General is looking over their shoulder.

My conclusion. Floodways are just dangerous places to build sand mines and this mine sits in two floodways.

Six More Breaches

Here’s a second breach into Caney Creek that they haven’t even started repairing. It appears that water overflowed the pit and started traversing down the side on a diagonal. Note the tree leaning into the creek in the sandy area at the bottom.
And a third breach into Caney Creek. But at least they repaired the road above this one.
And a fourth breach into Caney Creek.
And a second breach into White Oak Creek behind the mine’s stockpile.
And the start of an exit breach along the mine’s southern perimeter where so many homes in Walden Woods flooded. To my eye, it appears that there is little or no elevation difference between the mine road and surrounding homes. So I am not even sure that this qualifies as a dike, or is just the edge of a pond.
And the mother of all breaches on the north side of the mine.

Tick Tock Tick Tock

The suit filed by the Texas Attorney General seeks monetary relief of “not more than $1 million.” But here’s where it gets interesting. The Texas Water Code section 7.102 states that penalties can range up to $25,000 per day for EACH day of EACH violation. It also specifies that “Each day of a CONTINUING violation is a SEPARATE violation.”

With all of these other breaches (that the TCEQ investigators could not see when they first inspected the mine because of washed out roads), these violations could add up quickly. Let’s see. 48 days x $25,000 = $1,200,000 for each breach. If the AG amended the lawsuit, that could add up to some serious bank.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11.6.2019

799 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 48 since Imelda

The thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Pit Capture on Caney Creek: What Happens When A Sand Mine Builds Flimsy Dikes in Floodways

This story illustrates on of the dangers of pit capture in sand mining. During the peak of Imelda, 42,000 cubic feet of floodwater per second came down Caney Creek. However, early the morning of September 19th, residents south of the Triple PG Sand Mine on Hueni Road in Porter started seeing water coming from the mine before it came up from the creek.

Escaping with Only a Minute to Spare

They started evacuating their families and animals. One Walden Woods resident told me that the water came up so fast, it covered an entire SUV within an hour. Another told me that had she waited one more minute to evacuate, she and her family would have had no way out. The force of the rushing water undermined the house and garage of a third. Farther south of the mine, residents of Dogwood Lane, Woodstream Village, Dunnam Road, and Riverchase felt the same panic.

Caney Creek Captures Triple PG Sand Pits

So what happened? A review of aerial photographs below taken on 10.2.19, almost two weeks after Imelda, showed a massive breach in the northern dike of the mine. Erosion patterns suggest the water then rushed through the mine in a north to south direction.

  • Trees laid down in a southerly direction at the entry point
  • Sand waves orient along the north-to-south direction of flow
  • East/west roads separating the ponds were blown out, by water flowing north to south
  • The mines main stockpile shows massive erosion along its western edge in a north-to-south direction
  • Sand is piled up against the mine’s main building along the northern side only (where the water came from)

Photo Tour of the Aftermath

All the photographic evidence suggests a classic case of pit capture. Peach Creek joins Caney Creek just north of this entry point.

Where water entered the mine from the north. Looking northwest from inside the mine and past the northern dike. Note the trees pushed into the mine by the force of the water, indicated the direction of flow.
Reverse shot. Looking south into the Triple PG Sand Mine.
A closer view of the same scene shows clear evidence of erosion within the mine from rushing floodwaters. The water came from directly behind the camera position. The road in the middle was blown out, but reconstructed by the time I shot this photo two weeks after Imelda. The TCEQ said they could not safely reach this part of the mine because of damaged roads.

You can see from the shot above that water barreled through this mine as if shot from a water cannon.

Close up of repairs to damaged road. Looking southwest. Sand patterns show water moving north to south.
Note the sand pushed up against the north-facing back of this building.
The eastern side of this stockpile was eroded from the bottom by water side-swiping it from a north-to-south direction.

No Effective Dike at Southern End of Mine

There really is no dike at the southern end of the pit, just a road around the perimeter. The ground level in the neighborhood to the south is virtually even with the level of the road. After water flowed through the pit, it flowed through neighborhood(s) to the south and damaged homes. It’s easy to see the damage immediately south of the pit and imagine the pit capture as the cause of the damage. The damage faces the mine, not Caney Creek to the east.

Floodwaters from the Triple PG mine partially knocked this home off its foundation. The owner had to jack it up and re-level it. The back of the house faces the mine and is not more than a hundred feet from it.
The same homeowner’s garage. Floodwaters from the mine scoured under it. Again, the back of the garage faces the mine and is not more than a 100 feet from it.

Reasons for Pit Capture

What is pit capture? It’s when a river or stream cuts through the pit of a nearby sand/gravel mine instead of following its normal course.

How does it happen? Water starts to overtop or penetrate the dike. It creates a fissure that rapidly widens and opens a hole. Pretty soon the dike collapses and the water rushes in. The water moves from areas of high pressure and elevation to areas of low pressure and elevation. After the water moves into into the pit, it fills the pit up and needs to find a way out on the other end. Like a water ballon attached to a faucet, sooner or later dikes on the other side burst.

Why does this happen?

  • The mine was built in the floodway of Caney Creek on a point bar
  • Dikes made out of sand could not withstand the force of the water
  • Dikes had previously failed in the same places and left “weak points”
  • When the water came up, it took the path of least resistance
  • Texas has no minimum setbacks from rivers for mines
  • Texas enforces no best management practices for mines

What Next for the Triple PG Mine?

The Texas Attorney General is currently suing the mine for allowing its process water to pollute Lake Houston. The mine left its dikes open for weeks after multiple breaches in multiple storms. The TCEQ also found that the mine was breached from east to west between White Oak and Caney Creeks.

Potential fines could reach well past a million dollars. That raises the question, “What can be done with this mine to protect residents below the mine and to protect the City of Houston’s water supply?”

Over the years, Triple PG’s owners have removed 800 acres of forest and an unknown volume of sand from the mine. The risk of pit capture is greatest were mines are deeper than the adjacent river bed and close to the river/stream. Both conditions apply in this case.

The dike between Caney Creek and the Triple PG pit is a narrow strip of unvegetated dirt, just wide enough to support a vehicle…and not compacted very well as you can see below.

This shows repairs to an exit breach to Caney Creek farther south. No geotextile fabrics or rip rap are holding the repair together. Photo courtesy of Josh Alberson. Taken 11.2.2019.
This closer shot shows the same breach filled with sand and clay. You can see how flimsy the repair is. The uncompacted and unprotected soil is already eroding after two inches of rain last week. Photo courtesy of Josh Alberson. Taken on 11.2.2019.

It will be interesting to see whether a professional engineer will certify this repair, as a restraining order demands.

If the courts should shut this mine down, sealing it off permanently will be difficult and costly.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11.3.2019 with images from Josh Alberson

796 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 45 since Imelda

The thoughts in this post reflect my opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.